Three Philosophical Problems about Consciousness and their Possible Resolution
Nicholas Maxwell
DOI: 10.4236/ojpp.2011.11001   PDF    HTML     14,758 Downloads   31,348 Views   Citations


Three big philosophical problems about consciousness are: Why does it exist? How do we explain and understand it? How can we explain brain-consciousness correlations? If functionalism were true, all three problems would be solved. But it is false, and that means all three problems remain unsolved (in that there is no other obvious candidate for a solution). Here, it is argued that the first problem cannot have a solution; this is inherent in the nature of explanation. The second problem is solved by recognizing that (a) there is an explanation as to why science cannot explain consciousness, and (b) consciousness can be explained by a different kind of explanation, empathic or “personalistic” explanation, compatible with, but not reducible to, scientific explanation. The third problem is solved by exploiting David Chalmers“principle of structural coherence”, and involves postulating that sensations experienced by us–visual, auditory, tactile, and so on–amount to minute scattered regions in a vast, multi dimensional “space” of all possible sensations, which vary smoothly, and in a linear way, throughout the space. There is also the space of all possible sentient brain processes. There is just one, unique one-one mapping between these two spaces that preserves continuity and linearity. It is this which provides the explanation as to why brain processes and sensations are correlated as they are. I consider objections to this unique-matching theory, and consider how the theory might be empirically confirmed.

Share and Cite:

Maxwell, N. (2011). Three Philosophical Problems about Consciousness and their Possible Resolution. Open Journal of Philosophy, 1, 1-10. doi: 10.4236/ojpp.2011.11001.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] Armstrong, D. M. (1968). A materialist theory of the mind. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
[2] Block, N. (1990). Troubles with functionalism. In W. Lycan (Ed.), Mind and cognition (pp. 444-468). Oxford: Blackwell.
[3] Campbell, K. (1970). Body and mind. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.
[4] Chalmers, D. J. (1996). The conscious mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
[5] Clark, A. (2000). A theory of sentience. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
[6] Dennett, D. (1991). Consciousness explained. London: Allen Lane.
[7] Jackson, F. (1982). Epiphenomenal qualia. Philosophical Quarterly, 32, 127-136. doi:10.2307/2960077
[8] Jackson, F. (1986). What mary didn’t know. Journal of Philosophy, 83, 291-295. doi:10.2307/2026143
[9] Kirk, R. (1974). Zombies versus materialists. Aristotelian Society, 48 (Supplement), 135-152.
[10] Lakatos, I. (1976). Proofs and refutations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
[11] Levine, J. (1983). Materialism and qualia: The explanatory gap. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 64, 354-361.
[12] Lewis, D. (1972). Psychophysical and theoretical identifications. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 50, 249-258. doi:10.1080/00048407212341301
[13] Lewis, D. (1990). What experience teaches. In W. Lycan (Ed.), Mind and cognition (pp. 499-519). Oxford: Blackwell.
[14] Locke, J. (1961). An essay concerning human understanding. London: J. M. Dent & Sons.
[15] Lockwood, M. (1989). Mind, brain and the quantum. Oxford: Blackwell.
[16] Maxwell, N. (1966). Physics and common sense. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 16, 295-311. doi:10.1093/bjps/XVI.64.295
[17] Maxwell, N. (1968a). Can there be necessary connections between successive events?. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 19, 1-25. Reprinted in R. Swinburne (Ed.) (1974), The justification of induction (pp. 149-174). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
[18] Maxwell, N. (1968b). Understanding sensations. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 46, 127-146. doi:10.1080/00048406812341111
[19] Maxwell, N. (1984). From knowledge to wisdom: A revolution in the aims and methods of science. Oxford: Blackwell
[20] Maxwell, N. (1985). Methodological problems of neuroscience. In D. Rose and V. G. Dobson (Eds.), Models of the visual cortex (pp. 11-21). Chichester: John Wiley.
[21] Maxwell, N. (1998). The comprehensibility of the universe: A new conception of science. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
[22] Maxwell, N. (2001). The human world in the physical universe: consciousness, free will and evolution. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.
[23] Maxwell, N. (2010). Cutting god in half—and putting the pieces together again: A new approach to philosophy. London: Pentire Press.
[24] Mulhauser, G. (1998). Mind out of matter. Dordrecht: Kluwer. doi:10.1007/978-94-011-5104-7
[25] Nagel, T. (1974). What is it like to be a bat?. The Philosophical Review, 83, 435-450. doi:10.2307/2183914
[26] Nagel, T. (1986). The view from nowhere. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
[27] Nemirow, L. (1990). Physicalism and the cognitive role of acquaintance. In W. Lycan (Ed.), Mind and cognition (pp. 490-499). Oxford: Blackwell.
[28] Place, U. T. (1956). Is consciousness a brain process?. British Journal of Psychology, 46, 44-50. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8295.1956.tb00560.x
[29] Popper, K. R. (1962). The open society and its enemies volume II. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
[30] Putnam, H. (1960). Minds and machines. In S. Hook (Ed.), Dimensions of mind (pp. 138-164). London: Collier-Macmillan.
[31] Rey, G. (1997). Contemporary philosophy of mind. Oxford: Blackwell.
[32] Smart, J. J. C. (1963). Philosophy and scientific realism. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Copyright © 2023 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.